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In this 2009 photo, Luke Amuschastequi, 15, of Talent, holds a channel catfish, a species illegally introduced at Emigrant Lake. Mail Tribune file photo

Rewards offered for illegal fish-stocking

Angler groups seeing red over the rampant introduction of non-native fish into Southern Oregon waterways are hoping a little green will curb the practice and perhaps lead to someone getting caught in the act.

Three nonprofit organizations of bass anglers — Oregon BASS Nation, The Bass Federation and Oregon Black Bass Action Committee — have created a fund called Turn In Illegal Introductions, or TI3, to provide cash rewards of up to $3,000 for information leading to convictions for illegal transportation and/or release of fish in Oregon.

The program piggybacks on the long-used Turn In Poachers, or TIP, program that pays cash rewards for information that helps nab wildlife violators. Tipsters for both programs can remain anonymous, and the new program even uses the TIP telephone number: 1-800-452-7888.

The move comes after someone recently dumped spotted bass into Lost Creek Lake.

"Those fish don't travel on their own," says Lonnie Johnson, Oregon BASS Nation conservation director and one of the founders of the new program. "We raised the money on our own to deal with these extremists." 

Non-native fish can cause irreversible damage to rivers and lakes and their native inhabitants. Non-natives can out-compete natives for food and space, damage habitat, alter ecosystems, degrade water quality and even trigger potentially toxic blue-green algae blooms.

"This is one of the biggest threats, as is changing climate, to our native fish," says Dan VanDyke, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Rogue District fish biologist.

"I'd just love to see someone cited for illegally transporting and releasing fish," VanDyke says. "Hopefully that would spread the word that something like this isn't OK."

Someone caught illegally releasing fish into public water-bodies likely would face a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail under Oregon law. If convicted, the violator could also be held liable for eradication costs, which could run into the millions of dollars.

While illegal introduction of fish into Oregon waters has been widely documented, prosecutions are rare, says Lt. David Gifford from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division.

In his 20 years in the division, Gifford says he can remember only one such case — a man who illegally stocked a pond adjacent to Tenmile Lakes along the South Coast.

"We just don't get a lot of information on these," Gifford says. "Maybe this will generate a little more information."

Illegal fish introductions have damaged fisheries throughout the region, with documentation as far back as the 1940s when tui chub were first introduced into Diamond Lake as live bait for bigger fish.

Smallmouth bass released into Lost Creek Lake crashed the reservoir's once-proud largemouth bass fishery, while tui chub have bit into the productivity at Fish Lake and Hyatt Lake.

Smallmouth bass illegally placed in Howard Prairie have altered the rainbow trout fishery to a point where ODFW now is experimenting with different stocking strategies to work around it. The same goes for the impacts of yellow perch on crappie in Emigrant Lake, which also has seen illegal stocking of blue catfish.

Perch have also been dumped into Lake Selmac, Lost Creek Lake and the ponds on the Denman Wildlife Area. Also, ringed crayfish have been illegally introduced into the Rogue, where they out-compete native crayfish for food and space.

But nowhere have illegal introductions become more prevalent and more expensive than at Diamond Lake, which has become Oregon's poster-lake for the anti-alien efforts.

Fresh off the $5.6 million poisoning of the lake in 2006 to eliminate illegally stocked tui chub, trap nets two years later collected 640 golden shiners — bait fish commonly used legally throughout most of the United States as "minnows."

Tui chub were discovered yet again in Diamond Lake last year.

And that doesn't count the various warmwater and coldwater fish species taken from public waterbodies and released into private ponds, with public waters threatened if these illegal fish escape.

That's exactly the theory of how pikeminnow, then called squawfish, ended up in the middle Rogue River in the late 1970s, according to ODFW.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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